By Celeste Kurnik
Yanira Obando, Chilean activist and artist, was scheduled to speak at Lewis & Clark College along side Kelly Baur, an activist and documentary film maker from Portland, on Nov. 15th. The presentation was intended to look like a panel of the women hosting the event, all seated in chairs on stage. This is not how the event played out.
While Baur sat on the stage, Obando’s presence was confined by the small Skype box in the corner of the projecting screen. Below her, a piece of her art was being shown; a black and white collage depicting two girls with guns and the words, “Welcome To U.S.A,” pasted between the barrels like a bullet.
Obando had intended on being here in person for the event, but when she flew into the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a much different fate awaited her on arrival. Baur translated from Spanish to English as Obando told her story.
“So what happened to me was already what I thought and new about the United States, but to actually experience it on a corporal level, physically…” Obando said.
When she arrived at the airport, Obando was detained by police.
“They interviewed me, or interrogated me, multiple times,” Obando said. “They didn’t understand why I would be coming to the United States for such a long time to visit a friend. They didn’t understand why I was single. They didn’t understand why I didn’t have kids. All of these things added up and they decided to not let me in.”
Obando was given a translator for just 10 minutes of her 17 hour detainment. Although Obando had a letter of invitation from Baur, border patrol refused to let Obando call Baur, or even do it themselves. However when Baur tried to call Obando, border patrol told her that Obando had to call her and that she could call as many times as she wanted. In reality, Obando had only been given one phone call and Baur did not pick up. Baur asked the guard if Obando knew that she could call as many times as she wanted and if she had an interpreter, to both of which the guard answered “yes.”
“I had to just keep calling back to talk to a different person and finally when somebody got her and let her speak to me on the phone for like, a minute,” Baur said.
During their brief conversation it was revealed to Baur that Obando had neither been allowed to call as many times as she wanted, nor given a translator.
Obando was denied entry into the United States and sent back to Chile. When she later applied for a visa, that was denied as well. Despite all of these obstacles, Obando still managed to do the presentation, although not in the form so desired by everyone, herself especially.
Obando shared stories over skype about Chile’s feminist movement along with her own involvement in it. Some of her most prevalent involvement in the movement has been her artwork.
“I studied art,” Obando said.“I’m just really interested in the image.It’s a way to do something political as well.”
Her work has become a symbol for the movement. While these women have been making waves in Chile, coverage of the movement has failed to be majorly recognized by other areas of the world. Baur’s work documenting the movement is helping to gain these women support and attention.
Toward the end of her presentation, Obando was asked what people in the US could do to support the cause. With current events furthering the U.S.’s antagonistic policies towards countries in Latin America, her pleas proved to be relevant given the current political climate.
“Make visible women’s history, and not just in your country,” Obando said. “Look beyond the United States and learn about what’s happening to women in Mexico, what’s happening to women who are coming in the caravan. What are feminist organizations here doing to support the women and the children who are coming in the caravan?”